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Category: graphic design (Page 3 of 4)

Market testing book covers

super crunchers book titles

Book publishing has always been a little backward in some aspects of marketing. For example, while a graphic designer might produce several covers for a book, these are usually reviewed only by a select group of decision makers involved with its production and marketing. I’m not aware of many focus group tests, even for titles that will be receiving massive resources.

Now Bantam Dell is running an online poll to help choose among three different covers for the paperback edition of Ian Ayres’ Super Crunchers (which “explores how detail-rich data and our increasing ability to ‘crunch’ information is changing the way we live”). I suppose it’s a positive step, although I’m not sure that online votes correspond directly to potential sales.

In an extravagant gesture, Bantam Dell will give a free trade paperback copy of the book to twenty lucky winners (a value to the publisher of perhaps a dollar per book in direct production costs, so they are committing some $20 to prizes an an inducement for people to vote) — this is announced by a huge red checkmark together with the words (all caps) ENTER TO WIN, followed by a screamer. I can’t imagine this kind of overselling is effective.

Is one of these covers better than the others?


via Buzz, Balls, and Hype


Op ads

No, not op eds — op ads. I had forgotten how pervasive op art was in advertising of the 1960s and 1970s. It was also a period of increasingly globalism, as design fads trends quickly spread from one culture to another.

Italy produced some of the boldest op art ads, such as these ads for a film festival, left, and a design company, Alfieri & Lacroix, right.

Examples from the U.S. include ads for Fresh Start (whatever that is), left, and Ford Fairlane, right.

Some of the quirkiest examples come from Japan, such as this (completely inappropriate) Yukio Mishima ad, left, and a book or movie called A La Maison de Civecawa, right.

These examples are drawn from Pink Ponk’s 1950s-1970s advertising set on Flickr.


What is design?

Paul Rand offers some answers in this four-minute video. According to the youtube info, it was “created for his posthumous induction to the One Club Hall of Fame in 2007.”

Adjusting map color

iranian bowl with foliate decoration, approx. early 13th c.

In yesterday’s discussion of the map for my Persian ceramics book, I mentioned that I hadn’t settled on a map color scheme. Subsequently I decided to pick up the scheme from one of the objects in the book. Shown is a detail of that object, which I’m using as a section opener.

This is a beautiful fritware bowl with underglaze and overglaze foliate decoration. It dates from 1180-1250 and is thought to come from Rayy or Kashan in Iran. The abstract patterning is unusual on this kind of bowl.

spread from persian ceramics book showing map with colors adjusted in photoshop

In order to replicate the object’s color scheme, I simply adjusted the main hue/saturation slider in Photoshop until I approximated the reddish brown colors of the dark areas of the bowl. Because the type is not part of the underlying image, it was unaffected. Then I picked up the teal blue color from the bowl with the eyedropper tool. I had made the water areas of the map flat, so they were solid colors. I selected a portion of one and then chose select similar color from the selection menu and filled the selection with the new color.


On the making of maps

persian ceramics map

After a long interval in which nothing happened, suddenly I’m back working on my little book about Persian ceramics (the trim size, 9.5 x 10 in., is small by museum publishing standards; it would have seemed large back in my text-based literary publishing days). This book required a map. I originally intended to send it out to a professional map maker, but because the budget is tight, I ended up doing it myself.

The curator wanted to show a lot of information, including modern country names (but not boundaries), rivers, seas, a mountain, a regional designation (I think this is analogous to something between “the Bay Area” and “the Midwest”), and a lot of cities/kiln sites. He also wanted some “light topography.”

Shown is a screenshot reduced in size, so it’s slightly crude. This is a work in progress, and I haven’t decided on the final color scheme yet.

I don’t kid myself that I can produce a map of the same quality as a professional (although this compares favorably to the maps I was given as aids to positioning elements). But I do have certain principles that I hope keeps my maps from sucking too badly:

  • Information must be legible
    It is remarkable how many maps break this seemingly obvious rule. This meant I had to keep my background map rather light and make the overlay text as dark and large as possible.
  • Map elements should be clearly distinguished by typography
    While country names are among the largest geographic elements, in this map they function just as modern reference points, and the main information is historical. I set the country names in small caps in a nonassertive color and the city names (really the main map information) in black in the typeface’s bold caption font.
  • All type should be horizontal
    This isn’t always possible, I guess, but I will go to great lengths to achieve it. The model maps I was given had type running this way and that, following the directions of rivers and mountains for example. I think this is migraine-inducing.
  • Map typefaces should be compatible with the book text
    Maps sometimes are produced seemingly without any reference to the context in which they will be placed. This map uses the same type family that I use in the text of the book (Garamond Premier Pro).

At some point in making a map like this you will be tempted to fudge some elements to make the map look better. Cities that are too close together, for example, present problems when you are pushing the size and weight of the type for legibility. As I mentioned, this is a work in progress,. But I have done my best to be fairly accurate in positioning the cities. Tageo.com is a helpful database of geographic coordinate information.

I suppose you could view maps on a sort of spectrum. At one end you have satelite photography, which captures geographic relationships with absolute fidelity but offers no filtering or organizing of information. At the other end you have something like Massimo Vignelli’s 1972 New York subway map, which presents information pertinent to the map user with scant regard for actual geography. For each map, the maker must determine what information the map is attempting to present and then find the appropriate point on that spectrum to achieve the desired result.


Book design fees

Recently I had occasion to research rates charged by designers for text-based book work. I was trying to determine a reasonable price for a 320-page hardcover collected poems, interior and cover/jacket design. Since I have mainly worked with heavily illustrated books over the past decade I had lost touch with going rates for text-based projects.

According to the 2001 edition of the Graphic Artists Guild handbook of Pricing and Ethics, for an average poetry book a designer might charge $7,500 to $15,000 to design and set the interior plus $1000-$2000 for the jacket. That gives a total range of $8500-17,000. Those figures are seven years old, but several people say the prices in this publication skew high.

For my informal survey I consulted four designers.

Designer A would charge $4-5/pg, depending on complexity, on top of the design charge of $350-$500. Cover design would range from $350-$1000. If there’s a lot of text prep (coding), he charges that hourly ($50). This gives a total of $1980-3100, plus coding, by far the lowest fee in my sample.

Designer B would charge $20-25/page “all in” as a nonprofit/university press discount rate for a non-illustrated book. Plus revisions at $50/hour. This would come to about $6400-8000, plus revisions fee. She says she gets $35-50 per page for an illustrated book from a commercial press, which obviously would as much as double the total.

Designer C would charge $1500 for the jacket + $1000-2500 for interior design + $8-15/page typesetting. When she totaled this up she got $8800, suggesting she favors the high end of her range, and I expect she would much more often come in there than at her low end.

Designer D would simply charge a flat rate of $35-40/page. This would come to $11,200-12,800. He claims “some people charge $65/page.”

It’s interesting to see the different bases designers use for calculating fees and the different rates and totals yielded ($3100, $8000, $8800, $12,800; plus extras) for the same job.


More posts on graphic design:

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So adult it smarts

x-rated movie posters

There’s a collection of supposedly x-rated movie posters from the 1960s and 70s over here. What’s a little surprising about the collection is that the graphic design is pretty good. And the posters are very tame by today’s standards. The years slip by, and you don’t notice these sorts of changes until you look back . . .


Creative barcodes from Japan

creative japanese barcodes

Barcodes are the graphic designer’s bane. I’ve tried to integrate them in designs through color and other placement, but you constantly run up against the distribution people who insist on conspicuous white rectangles, regardless of the context. (I’ve tested barcodes on color backgrounds and found that they scan perfectly well.)

So I love these creative barcodes from Japan.


More posts on graphic design:

[catlist ID=32 numberposts=10]


Sad Young Lit Guys

sad young literary men

Nice conceptual book cover, via Book Design Review. Literary aspirations can be a heavy burden indeed.


Vocabularium rerum

vocabularium reurm, a printed book from 1495

An early printed bilingual dictionary, the Vocabularium Rerum provided German readers with the meanings of common Latin words and phrases. This edition (photo from Helga’s Lobster Stew’s photostream) was printed in Venice in 1495. According to HLS, the book can be seen”open to the public in the library at the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry on 16th Street in DC.” The label in the photo says that there are three known copies, the other two being in London and Vienna.

Notice the perfection of the printed book as an information technology — after about 513 years, the data is still perfectly readable. From a book design point of view, observe that the bottom and outside margins are larger than the top and inside margins. On a spread, this holds the facing type areas together; it also provides a place for the reader’s fingers. This page has nice even type color, especially considering the variation in type size.

I hope that label is on acid-free paper! I would not have set it directly on the page.

Words fail …

finer points in the spacing and arrangement of type

via Hoefler & Frere-Jones

Book cover design: On Fishing

on fishing by brian clarke

On Fishing is a good example of a mostly typographic cover that is distinctive, noticeable, and instantly conveys a sense of the book. The graceful loops of the swashes express something of the freedom and exhilaration of a good fly cast, while the title is forceful and remains readable from a distance.

Perhaps the upright modernist font — which probably began as a form of Bodoni — with its perfectly vertical axis, suggests something of a fisherperson standing steady amid rushing water, as the loops of the castline swirl around.

From a typographer’s point of view, however, the design leaves something to be desired. The hooklike extensions of the s and k are clever, and well enough done, but the connections between the swashes and the letter forms are rather clumsy. The B in particular is quite ugly, and the angle of the swash off the O is at least questionable. The way in which the swash connects is inconsistent: it gets quite thick where it attaches to the B, but it seems not thick enough where it attaches to the O and C.

All in all, a clever design that will probably appeal to all but the most curmudgeonly typophile.


There is some discussion on this cover here.


Online bookseller links for this title:


Trajan, the movie font

I don’t know why the Hollywood folks are so in love with Trajan, but it’s been a designer’s joke for years now — any Hollywood epic MUST use Trajan. I prepared a little talk on typefaces a while back for which I gathered together several movie posters that used Trajan. But this guy does me one better, in this amusing video on the subject.


My Photoshop default workflow

I process most images that I post to the web in Photoshop, and I have a simple workflow that does what I want with a minimum of fuss. The whole process only takes a minute or two. Allow me to demonstrate.

photoshop default actions

I’ve chosen an image more or less at random (except that it is one that I like, from this photoset). My vantage point was looking down at a river from overhead, with colorful leaves on the right. For the purpose of this demonstration the image has been resized to fit this space (435 pixels wide).

The first thing I do is to open an action I’ve saved under the name “open adjustments.” This opens three adjustment layers: levels, curves, and hue/saturation in that order, which is the order I make the adjustments.

First I look at levels. If they look well balanced I might leave them alone. Often they are weighted to either darks or lights, and I slide the midtone triangle to get a better balance. That often makes the image look worse but it puts it in position for the next adjustment, curves. Usually I find a midpoint that looks good and then generally make an ess-shaped curve in order to get a good range of darks and lights. Finally, I adjust hue/saturation. With my current camera this usually means just increasing the saturation a little bit.

photoshop default actions

Next I open an action I’ve saved under the name “hi-pass sharpen.” This sharpens the image using the duplicate layer – invert – blur – overlay – adjust transparency workflow that I have described previously. I don’t like oversharpening, so my default transparency is a modest 40 percent. It’s important to remember to select the background layer first or you will just be sharpening your hue/saturation adjustment. One nice thing about this way of sharpening is that it is size independent, so I can resize my image and do a save for web to reduce the file size without having to resharpen.

The entire process is done with adjustment layers and is completely nondestructive — no changes are made to the original image. Below the image as it came from the camera is on the left and the adjusted image on the right.

photshop default actions

Vector Magic

vector magic

VectorMagic is an “online tool for precision vectorization.” In other words, it is an autotracer that converts pixel-based images (photos, screen captures, etc.) to vectors, which can then be scaled without loss of quality. You upload an original image and download the vectorized result. This would be a big time-saver if you wanted to manipulate an image in a program like Illustrator. There could be other uses, which I will leave to your imagination, except to say that the folks at typophile can’t be altogether pleased, and it will be up to the user to observe copyright and EULA image restrictions. In my tests the program performed extremely well. In the screen shot above the original image is on the left and the vector conversion on the right.

Best book covers

Since I posted about the best magazine covers of the year, why not have a look at book covers too? When I first saw this selection of “the best book covers of 2007” (via BoingBoing) I thought it remarkable how the judges had chosen a group of covers that all reflect a similar aesthetic. Then are realized that these are not judged but rather Joseph Sullivan’s personal choices of the best covers of the year. Sullivan runs a blog called the book design review. His preferred covers tend to be typographic and conceptual with a somewhat retro flavor. He shows no interest at all in pictorial covers (standard in museum book publishing, my main gig these days). Of his choices this is my favorite:

the worst years of my life

X-Rite and Pantone

pantone color swatches for graphic design and printingX-Rite acquired Pantone several days ago for $180 million. Panton has been the leader for print color matching for decades. X-Rite produces a variety of color calibration software and hardware (including, apparently, something called the Munsell Frozen French Fry Color Standard). The acquisition has been pretty widely reported, though without much commentary. So what does it mean to users of the Pantone system?

It’s hard to be sure. Certainly it means that X-Rite has a virtual monopoly on the world of color matching. But really, as far as print is concerned, Pantone was already the only significant player. But Pantone was not a very innovative or collaborative company (as Walter Zacharias reports in a Friesens newletter) — their color swatches, for example, were printed on nonstandard paper under atypical conditions. Rather than cooperating with printers and others who wanted to improve color definition and integration, they protected their systems with very aggressive legal action. So there is reason to hope that X-Rite will be more open to new technologies and collaborative activities, and that this purchase will be a positive development for graphic designers.

Book Design: Persian Ceramics

I’m in the beginning stages of designing a new book about Persian ceramics. It will be a small book (for an art book), at 9.5 x 10 inches the closest to square I have ever done. This is the proportion known as the “turned pentagram” because it is the shape of a rectangle drawn around the five corners of an equal-sided pentagram. I still have a bunch of work to do, but an essay spread will probably look something like this:

persian ceramics essay spread

For entry pages I’m planning on putting the tombstone information at the bottom facing the large recto images. The chat retains the decorative initial (from the Poetica font set; the main text is a form of Garamond). Does this look okay?

persian ceramics entry spread

Here are the underlying page guides. The magenta area is the main text block — a four column block, although I may only use two columns for text.

persian ceramics design guides

The cover would use the same page design elements.

persian ceramics cover

Here’s a closer view of the type treatment.

title type treatment

Again, this is all a little preliminary, but it reflects my plans at this stage. I am trying, of course, to match the design to the content. You may be able to see from the first couple of spreads the sort of proportions that are typical of Persian ceramics. If anyone has any suggestions I would be happy to hear them.

Leila and Massimo Vignelli on living by design

new york subway map by massimo vignelli

Massimo Vignelli has been an influential promoter on Swiss industrial graphic design — design that tends to expose an underlying grid and often uses only Helvetica for type. He designed, for example, the New York City subway map shown above, in which the grid is apparent and is effectively used as a means of clearly presenting essential information. In the video below, Leila and Massimo Vignelli discuss some of items they have designed for use in their living space.


Related: The gastrointestinal system as a subway map


How to design a book without special skills or software

bamboo baskets book spread

It is now possible for anyone to print a book fairly inexpensively, using services such as Lulu or Blurb. Of course, printing should be distinguished from publishing, which includes not just the book’s physical production but its promotion and distribution as well. The big problem with any kind of publishing is getting books together with their readers, and self-publishers should be aware of the formidable difficulties this entails.

But that’s a topic for another time. Today I want to explain how to make a book look good if you’re not a designer and the only tool you have available is something like Microsoft Word. Before we begin, please be aware that it is more difficult to design a book in Word than it would be to do so in a program designed for that purpose, such as InDesign or Quark. I would hate doing a whole book in Word. But sometimes you’ve got to go with what you’ve got.

I know, of course, that hardly anyone who could benefit from the advice that follows is likely to accept it. Simplicity in design is one of the hardest concepts to sell, at least to novices. There is always the urge to add one more flourish or embellishment to “dress up” the text and make the book look “special.”

Which is exactly the wrong way to go. Please believe this. The way to make your book stand out is to make it simple. If you do this correctly it will also be beautiful. Besides, what you want is for people to read the words, right? So your goal should be to keep the design out of the way of the words!

There is a principle in Japanese design called “wabi-sabi.” The term is often translated as “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete,” but the gist of it is unadorned simplicity. This will be our model. Specifically, if you observe the following guidelines I promise you people will compliment you on how professional your book looks. (Be sure to check with your print service in case they have particular requirements that override aspects of my advice.)

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